“James’s Pragmatic Maxim and the ‘Elasticity’ of Meaning”

In The Jamesian Mind. New York, NY, USA: pp. 274-284 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

To the extent that William James had an account of ‘meaning,’ it is best captured in his “pragmatic maxim”, but James’s maxim has notoriously been open to many conflicting interpretations. It will be argued here that some of these interpretive difficulties stem from the fact that (1) James seriously understates the differences between his own views and those presented by Peirce in “How to Make our Ideas Clear”, and (2) James’s understanding of the maxim typically ties meaning to truth, but since James takes “truth” talk to stretch from “temporary” to “absolute” truth, a similar ‘elasticity’ can be found in his conception of meaning. However, this ‘elasticity’ is found in our everyday talk of meaning as well, and James manages to capture it in a more cohesive way than more contemporary accounts that often try to do so by positing two completely distinct types of meaning or content.

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Henry Jackman
York University

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